Thinking in past tense

Thinking in past tense

As I put life in perspective and my career on the right path, I randomly go through my archives for creativity and inspiration.  I came across an image from Tokyo taken in 2008.  Wanderlust in Tokyo overwhelms me.  Tokyo’s facade of neon noise easily cracks open allowing the curious to see Tokyoites grasping on to ancient beliefs.  Whether its for show or true understanding is not for me to say.  But Tokyo’s religion of consumerism reigns true.

This shot, taken right outside of Shinjuku St., if I recall, had a troupe of musicians playing flutes and banging tin drums for some reason or another.  I wasn’t sure but it wasn’t religious.  But this guy in a worn rice paddy had sat smoking a hand rolled cigar.  I don’t know what he was doing, why he was there or why I was there.  Wanderlust, a lack of language, and naivety can lead to some interesting images.



Hot, sweaty and dirty

Hot, sweaty and dirty

Japan is really hot in the summer.  Unbearable.  Even the locals said the summer heat was the worst in years.  Little did I know I would encounter weather so bad.

It was really hot.  Anyway…I traveled to Japan this past August for a guidebook and photographed just about every tourist site in 13 cities across southern Japan including Tokyo.  I flew into Tokyo and traveled to Shimonoseki, Hiroshima, Kurashiki, Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Nagoya.  Spend a few days in Tokyo and decided (and was pushed by an aggressive editor) to go back to Kyushu and covered Fukuoka, Kagoshima, and Kuamamoto.  I spent loads of time staring out the window of the Shinkansen bullet train watching the world blur by.

I’ve been to Japan many times in the past for both pleasure and family as well as work.  I shot my way across the Noto Peninsula for a bicycling magazine and I’ve done many a project on my own throughout Tokyo and surrounding areas.  Japan isn’t new to me but its always an adventure.  Karaoke (yes, I sang), hot baths (no…too darn hot), rotating sushi bars (pretty cool), sake (need you ask), yukatas (if I can find one that fits) and Godzilla (grrrrr!)  But this trip wasn’t just about badly howling Frank Sinatra songs and tossing empty beer cans into the street because heaven forbid the Japanese make throwing trash away easy…it was about taking pictures…and let me tell you I took some pictures.  I think I captured on an average about 2000 images a day and that equals about 50,000 images…and thats on the conservative side.

Seems all I did was have my face buried behind my camera snapping away.  And when I wasn’t taking a picture, I spent most of my Tokyo time (and for that matter in every city I traveled to) drinking Pocari Sweat, the Japanese version of Gatorade (and neither taste better than the other) while standing and sweating over a vending machine.  The heat and humidity just about killed me.  On one of my last days in Kyushu, I just about fell to heat exhaustion.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that hot.  Not even after a tough workout class with my iron-butt trainer have I had salt stains ring my shirts and socks that seemed as if they came out of a washing machine.

So I was a hot, sweaty travel photographer.  Glamorous?  Well, I got to travel to these exotic and foreign destinations visiting tourists spots and restaurants but its hard to enjoy.  You are there to capture, as best as you can, the essence and feeling of that location, the taste of this food, or the peace in that temple.  All of this has to be done on a frame or two and done within an extreme short period of time.  In most cities, I had only a day or two to cover what most tourists would cover in a week.  I mean from train station to museum to park to castle to museum to restaurant to store to museum to temple to shrine to restaurant to scenic area to historic spot to statue to ferry to train to bus to hotel and so forth all the while you’re deciphering a map written in Japanese hoping for a moment of brilliance that never comes.  From sunrise to sundown for close to a month.  You get very little sleep, rest, or time to enjoy anything.  And talk about the walking.  I walked so much I wore the rubber off my new Lacoste sneakers within the first two weeks.  And did I mention the heat?

There is also the amount of equipment I have to carry.  Multiple cameras, lenses, laptop, cords, cases, hard drives, more cords, flash cards, cases, bags, zip locks, and even more cords.  Also clothes.  Its not fun.  The fact that you are always fearing a hard drive (although I had four of them) would go down loosing thousands of images is enough to make you stay up at night.  It was no different in the old days with film but digital seems to be tougher as there is just so many more accessories to carry around.  You could still in one way or another loose your film.   In my college days, I back packed through Central America and Southeast Asia.  I carried a film camera, a few lenses, and a few rolls of film.  Once my kit (camera, film, passport, etc..) got left behind at a bus station in Saigon because a porter forgot to load it onto our bus.  It arrived the next day, no problems asked.  I sweated that one.  Now…its a different story.  Way too much on the line.  Yet, today I feel like I am just a walking byte.

You also have to do all the logistics and planning, deal with the  language barriers, read maps and outdated guidebooks, try to communicate with unfriendly locals who don’t want their picture taken.  Cloudy weather when you need sun, dirty clothes that need a wash, and raincoats that never fold small enough to carry comfortably.  Train schedules, flights, tickets, overhead baggage.  Odd sized money, coins, vending machines, strange foods… travel photography isn’t what you think it is.  Its not walking up an noon with a foreign beer hangover and going to make epic photos of a group of monks at an ancient temple.  Its waking up at 5am with a foreign beer hangover hoping some monk won’t scream bloody hell at you because you forgot to take off your shoes when you entered…or how you walked in circles trying to find some obscure cafe some writer wrote about but never went to…or trying to explain to someone who doesn’t speak English who doesn’t understand my bad Japanese or pantomime hoping they’d explain where the hell I am on a map that isn’t written in English.

Travel is tough.



You know…I always have fun in Japan.  Somewhere somehow someone is doing something strange.  Its not strange just to Western people, its just strange. For instance, I remember a while ago this older lady…maybe she was in her 40s…not old by any means, was dressed a bit too young.  She wore clothing more suited for a teen or young hip thing in Harajuku.  Tights, short skirt, black top, gaudy jewelery, high heels, a hip little hat and the likes and she was listening to an Ipod or Imusic whatever and every the music would hit a cresendo, she’d bust a move!  I mean “…let your body moooove to the music…hey, hey, hey…come on Vogue…”  Total Madonna.  We had just arrived in Tokyo and were riding the train into town and I couldn’t unpack a camera fast enough to capture her.  I thought maybe she was a dance instructor as she was actually dancing.  Why do I remember and telling you this story?  Because she was really kicking it!  I mean it was like I was watching a show.  I don’t think the modern reader would relate to this chic vogueing but thats what she was doing.  Snapping her fingers and the whole bit.  A dance show right in front of me…however, it was tame for most western viewers.  I mean you’d probably not be too impressed to see this if you’ve lived in New York or other crazy cities where this would be the norm.

But this is Japan!  I mean people don’t fall too far from the flock.  No one looked at her.  No one noticed her.  No one said a thing.  It was as if she didn’t exist or people just didn’t want to get involved.  Everyone ignores everyone else.  On the train, everyone is face down playing on their, pardon my bad words, their effing cell phone.  ALL THESE PEOPLE WON’T LOOK YOU IN THE EYES AS THEY ARE TOO DAMN BUSY TEXTING ON THEIR PHONES!!!

sorry…i lost it for a second.

There are just too many people in Japan hence people, although they tend to act like each other, will completely ignore someone who is making waves in the ocean.  And with the amount of people packed in Tokyo, it surely is an ocean of peoples.


Today was a special day.  I was riding a train to know where when this moderately attractive girl (fashionable, tall, thin, whatever) gets on and sits across the car from me.  I didn’t really notice her as many Japanese girls dress fashionably strong and as anything, they really don’t stand out too much. Anyway as the train ride goes on, I look up from my trains slumber and notice she’s digging through her big purse.  I perk up and watch and to my amazement…she pulls out a razor and mirror and BEGINS TO SHAVE HER FACE!  I MEAN SHE IS SHAVING THE HAIR OFF HER FACE!!!

Wait…is this she a he?  Well, maybe so.  No one seemed to notice except for the business suited guy across from me noticed I started taking pictures with my point and shoot.  I think he then looked across the train and noticed the tranny (I still don’t know) shaving her face. He kinda smiled at my disbelief or maybe he was smiling at his own.  He never made eye contact with me as he pulled out his cell phone, and well, you know…

The woman sitting next to Gillette her noticed the shaving but politely ignored it.  I think she was annoyed but didn’t say anything.  Would a New Yorker have?  I don’t know.  Either way she/he was shaving her face.

Whether its a girl or not (check out the legs!) she was still shaving her face.  I know many women are blessed with hair they don’t necessarily want.  But I think most would at least have the care to shed the hair off their chinny chin chins in public.  Well, I can’t answer for this person but I was still amazed.

I can’t say this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in Japan but it ranks up there with Japanese acting odd in public.  There was a grass eater boy on the train a few stops ahead back and I thought it was a girl (he was dressed in layers and looked like a girl in fashion heat) but the veins on his arms gave him away.  So I thought maybe Gillette was a boy but I still don’t know.  I didn’t see an Adam’s apple and she did see soft like a woman.  I must admit sweety was cute enough to be a girl but life only knows. Maybe next time, I’ll be lucky enough to sit closer to her.

Maybe dude looked like a lady but then again I’m dating myself.

When all else fails and you long to be
Something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away
It’s called a dance floor, and here’s what it’s for, so…

A quick one on “engrish…”

A quick one on

All the years I’ve come to Japan I can’t help but to marvel in their mistakes in English.  Don’t get me wrong, its not like I can read, write, or speak Japanese but English, well, its fairly universal.  Its the common currency among travelers.  I’m in Kyoto and I’ve met a Czech, a German, a couple from Spain, a guy from Korea, and a girl from France.  We could all speak English.  Basic, simple English.  Where is…What time is it…What is this…????  Simple.  The average Japanese can probably eat a few words of this and that but thats it. And when it comes to writing English…I mean…how can you get password wrong?

Sure…D is next to F but don’t you think someone would have noticed?  Passworf.  Unbelievable…

I got a picture in my archive from an elevator where they spelled Lobby…robby.  I always call Honolulu Honoruru but I’ve found Japanese can’t pronounce R as there is no one named Robert and instant noodles are not Larmen. Its Ramen!  ” Ho!  Lobert…rike eat ramen?”—Wait! Thats da kine Hawaiian!

I’ll catch some more pictures of bad engrish in a post in the future…

And the other thing about Black peoples…

This wouldn’t pass in America.  NO WAY.  They’d riot and smash the store but in Japan…HEY ITS HIP.

In Kobe I saw a guy with a ‘fro that would make any Black American ashamed.  It was perfect.  Even his tan was done to perfection.  I thought he was black.  I thought he could even be Japegro!  But no, he was a straight Japanese guy…a cool cat at that.  Maybe the brotha gots some bourbon.

If you want to hang with the cool peoples in Nara, Japan, you gots to go to Black Music and Bourbon.

I didn’t but sure wish I had.

Not about photography…

Not about photography...

Every so often, I have to blog about something non photo related.

Today’s subject…futbol and the world cup!

Nationalism is good.

And its even better when you follow the World Cup!  Only a global event event like this can bring dark feelings of patriotic song, memories of past wars, and historic games in which your country revenged a past debt from decades ago.  As for the US, our collective soccer history really starts in the 1990’s when the US held the ’94 World Cup but it still gives many Americans the chance to paint the flag on the face, drink loads of beer early in the afternoon, and hoot the ol’ war chant U-S-A! U-S-A!  We really can’t lay claim to a North vs South game where slavery is on the line or even a USA vs whom every we’ve gone to war with in the past.  Imagine the game strategy against Vietnam…carpet bomb the backfield, bomb the neighbors, try to win the hearts-and-minds of the opposing fans, and then have the US soccer federation tell the team to lose the game because the rating are low on ESPN.  We have played games like US vs Iran (or as I recall the Great Satan vs the Ayatollah’s rock and rollahs) but they just don’t have that historical feeling like watching England vs Argentina where memories of the Faulkland Islands ring clear.  Yet US soccer is still fun to watch regardless of their historic shortcomings and past.  No I take that back, that Iran game at the ’98 WC was pretty heavy.  I recall all the Iranians having heavy mustaches.

For the past few weeks, I’ve drank loads of coffee as the games start as early as 4 AM in HNL, and I have wrapped myself in the feel good Americanism of Team USA.  Forget about our failing financial woes, our pointless war in Afghanistan, our leaderless nation not doing enough to clean up the Gulf oil spill…ITS WORLD CUP TIME!  Its time to wave the flag!  Sing at the top of our lungs:  WE ARE PROUD TO BE AMERICANS! (where at least we know we’re free at this point from VAT taxes, a forced national health care, etc…)  We are free right NOW and we should paint our faces in red-white-and blue and sing the joys of the athletic nationalism.

I can’t say most Americans are always proud to be American.  Hell, Michelle Obama stated not too long ago…” For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m proud of my country.”  I guess she’s not watching enough soccer.  But we should all feel proud when our national athletes take the field and do battle for our collective pride.  Billy Clinton was down at one of the USA games and when interviewed after the game, he was hoarse and teary eyed.  Bill did America proud!

Sadly, the US is out.  The mediocre Americans lost to a slightly stronger Ghana whose many players all work in the top leagues in Europe.  Only a few Americans play near the pinnacle of top flight European football but most still play for second and third tier teams or work in the MLS in the States.  By far the best and brightest (?) athletes converge at the big three sports in the US leaving soccer for moms, SUV’s and suburban white kids.  We can’t say the US is out for a lack of trying.  I mean some of the best games were played by the US. Just listen to Spanish announcer Andres Cantor call the game for the US against Algeria in the first round.  Landon Donovan scored an overtime winner that still puts chills down my spine where I see that last second golazo.  You can listen to it here in espanol from

But the US team just isn’t good enough to compete beyond the first round and knock out stages.  Criticism has come from all sides stating we have a average domestic coach, players are not good enough, etc.  I’m also reading the US soccer federation will now create better outreach programs to pull kids from the greater American gene pool.  What does that mean?  It means soccer will try to move into the ghetto and el barrio and pull kids who would normally go to football, basketball and baseball.  Good. Imagine if soccer were to steal an Eli Manning, a Kobe Bryant, or an Oscar Dela Hoya?  We’d, like most other sports, dominate.  My friend David has always said why not get a 6’6 center from a basketball team and train him just to stand in front of the opponent’s net and jump up and hit the ball with his head?  That’s more or less what Peter Crouch does for England?

And besides with all the immigration that floods legally and illegally into our country, we’re bound to have some Diego Milito from Argentina or a some other Latin, Eastern Europe or African star show up.

Alas, most of my teams are out.  From America, to the country of my heritage (Mexico) the the country of my language (England) and now the country of my wife (Japan.)  I’ve got nothing.  I could start to dwell in the roots of my background (Portugal and Spain) but now Portugal is out leaving Spain with the only thread to really cling.  I could never really pull myself to cheer for a national team that wasn’t mine or I didn’t have some connection to but at this point, the world cup is over.  I’ll still wake up and watch the Germany Argentina game or the Brazil Netherlands game but in reality, its no fun. The nationalism is gone.  No more chanting yes we can as we did and we found out we really couldn’t.

Besides, I miffed at the poor handling of major mistakes by FIFA for not allowing goal line technology to be employed.  England had a goal taken away and Argentina was clearly off sides against Mexico causing the Mexicans to return to a game where an obvious injustice had been done.  The US had a game winning goal taken away by a ref from Mali.  Did anyone ask if the ref might have anti US bias?  The US doesn’t have the best image in the third world.  And besides, might that ref have Al Qaida sympathies?

Either way, another World Cup is just about done and I’m feeling depressed and blue.  So much emotion goes into each game and it hurts to see “my” team loose.  Eh–enough of this because soon enough, English Premier League will start in August and the drama will begin all over at the club level.  All the big stars will go back to their multi-ethnic teams and makes loads of money again.  Christano Ronaldo, who did absolutely terrible in this Cup, will go back to his millions in Spain and loads of screaming fans.

One sad note, the English, who were absolutely terrible in this world cup, were missing Beckham.  What fun he would have brought to the atmosphere of a dying English side.